Glory of Green
/


Stories from the Great Outdoors

 

This hike has it all. To me, it was the highlight of our days in Ireland. Who doesn’t like a sensibly marked trail ascending in beautiful scenery towards an ancient promontory fort seeped in myth? If the weather is on your side, it’s possible to continue hiking the unmarked trail to Caherconree Mountain top – or across the mountains towards Derrymore on the other side, a hike that will connect you to the Dingle Way. When we closed in on the fort, my two daughters and I were suddenly enveloped in fog, wind and rain. We climbed into our Jerven Bag shelter instead of continuing forward, but it didn’t matter one bit. We had a wonderful time, and that’s partly what makes this hike so great – there are so many possibilities for success!

The highest promontory fort in Ireland

After hundreds of years of looting, all that remains of Caherconree fort, or Cú Roí mac Dáire in Irish, is a triangle composed of a 107 meters long stone wall, 4 meters thick and 3meters at its highest point. Still, this is a gorgeous target for a hike – even if you’re hit by fog.

Caherconree fort
Caherconree fort

Lunch at the fort with my best friend, the Jerven Bag - and my glorious girls

Caherconree is a promontory fort – which means that it has a wall facing the slopes of the mountain – and on the other side there’s nothing but cliffs. At 683 meters, Caherconree is the highest promontory fort in Ireland. 

To me the cliffs makes the fort an embodiment of the idea of fighting till death. On the upside, there are less walls to defend – on the downside… Well, it goes down on all two out of three sides, actually.

You’re said to be able to see over 100 kilometres from the fort on a clear day, but you don’t need wide views to have an experience when you come face to face by the old boulders supposedly placed there by giants. The mist that creeped around us did nothing but enhance the magic of the place as we sat down to grab some lunch and hide from the howling wind.

Anicient isn't hard to imagine in Ireland

The Irish language facilitates trailing off into historical and mythical imagination. Listen to the names connected to Caherconree - Elves and gnomes will come alive. It smells of moss and lichen and makes me think of water dripping into black pools where the shapeshifting Nokken plays his violin (I know – Nokken is Skandinavian, but so am I). It just sounds so old – in a very good way. I was in not at all surprised when I discovered it’s the oldest language still in daily use in Europe.

Cú Roí, Cú Chulainn and Blathnát – and Ferchertne

Cú Roí, whom the fort is named after, is a creature of Irish mythology dating back to the 8th-century and onwards. His fort is one of the oldest place names found in Irish literature and dated to the Iron Ages. 

Cú Roí was a superhuman warlord and a master of disguise. I'm positive he wore a long and dark cape. Not only was his fort protected by the cliffs, but also by his magical powers, as Cú Roí would spin the fort during night to hide the entrance from attack. What a cool trick! 

After a plunder in Scotland where he didn’t get his share, Cú Roí got moody. He kidnapped the beautiful Blathnát, the ginger daughter of a Scottish king, along with some cattle and took her to the fort where he married her. Cattle was a measure of wealth in the warrior society, but a good woman could obviously also make do (so glad not to be a woman of the ancient Celts). 

Blathnát, however, was a cunning woman who betrayed her husband to be rescued by her lover Cú Chulainn (please applaud the display of resourcefulness in times of distress). Cú Chulainn killed Cú Roí, but later Cú Roí's poet Ferchertne threw both himself and Blathnát from a cliff in revenge. 

Come on – why does Ferchertne mix himself up with all this? Not a happy ending! 

The legend of Cú Roí might have had much older origins, as these stories often were transmitted orally for centuries before being written down. His name is also found in Belgian tales from the 11th century – hinting that he had been a recognisable character for some time at that point. Word got around – but not as fast as in the days of Facebook.

A landscape that matches the tales...

Practical stuff

The hike starts and stops southwest of the fort, at a small carpark along the Castlemaine Road south of Camp, or you can get someone to drive you to the southern carpark and hike to Derrymore on the northern side of the mountains (7 km). From Derrymore you’ll have to arrange further transportation and buses only seem to run twice a week… Let me know if you figure out a good way to do it without two cars and two drivers!

Caherconree fort trail
Caherconree fort trail
Caherconree fort trail

Starting out in good visibility

To the fort and back it’s 4 kilometres of climbing first up and then down – it’s a short and effective ascent and descent. The lower part was boggy and very wet in February, but as we got higher and closer to the fort, the cover got harder. 

Caherconree fort trail

Fog coming in fast!

Suddenly our visual world became very small...

Be aware that the marked route ends at the fort and that fog seems to be everyday business up at Caherconree. We started out in good visibility, with at least some blue sky, but suddenly fog came running up the mountain side fast as hell. Bring a map and compass if you consider going all the way to Derrymore or continuing to and from the top of Caherconree Mountain (825 metres / 8 km hike back and forth).

When we started out on our hike, I couldn’t find any markings leading to the fort, only Dingle Way-markings. After a little while I figured out why: After an all to quick look at the route description, I had parked the car where the trail ends in Derrymore, resulting in a little prehike in the opposite direction. 

the Dingle Way

Testing the Dingle Way...

It’s entirely possible to go in this direction, but the scenery is even more remote and majestic from the southern side – in addition to the route being marked with poles. A totally embarrassing mistake on my part, but as I’ve got the best hiking buddies in the world AND we had just discovered a dead sheep, everybody was still happy when we trotted back towards the car to find the right location.

sheep at Caherconree fort trail

Sheep everywhere - dead and alive...

You are supposed to drive for quite a bit on a narrow road going south from Camp. One of the route planners told me it was a ten minutes’ drive from Tralee. I’d add about ten minutes more to that – and be prepared that sheep might block the way. You’re at the right place when it looks like this:

parking Caherconree fort trail

Thick fog on marked route – what to do?

If visibility gets too poor for you to see from one mark to the other, I’ve got some useful instructions for you. All you need, is not to be completely alone: While one of you stays at a mark, another person walks ahead until he or she spots the next mark. Then the person who waited walks up to the person who can see the mark, and you continue together until you’re at the next mark. Repeat until you’re home free and can make yourself a cup of hot something.

 

Caherconree fort trail


Caherconree fort trail

Who can spot the next pole?

For other outdoors adventures in the same area, read my articles on Atlantic beach hopping and Conor Pass to Croaghskearda Ridge